In early January, I usually have trouble remembering exactly what year it is as I remain mired a bit in the past. But this year, there's no forgetting that it's 2016.
That point was brought home to me Sunday when my partner, who frequents our neighborhood Kroger, was shocked to see a shopper with a pistol at his hip in the checkout line and quickly texted me a photo.
Under the state's new "open carry" law, which went into effect January 1, properly licensed Texans are permitted to display their handguns in public in holsters on their hips or shoulders. But seeing a pistol-toting shopper in the middle of the produce department or elsewhere in the store is a scary sight for some people, who made their concerns known when the photo was posted on Facebook.
Those who don't want to be around guns in public places — and I admit I'm one of those people — can avoid those businesses but they have to do a little research.
Private property owners can ban guns with a sign worded like this:
Pursuant to Section 30.07, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with an openly carried handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a handgun that is carried openly.
Most grocery chains in Houston, including H-E-B, Randall's, Fiesta, Costco, Trader Joes, Sprouts, Phoenicia and Whole Foods, ban openly carried firearms in their stores with such a sign, according to the website Gun Free Businesses.
However, Kroger allows guns to be openly carried in its stores, and the chain's CFO has rejected demands to change its policy nationwide. Walmart also appears to allow permitted gun owners to carry guns in stores, although the Wall Street Journal reported that a store's associates and customers can complain to management if the presence of firearms makes them "feel uncomfortable in any situation where a customer brings a gun into the store, and store managers can ask customers to leave guns in the car."
(Update 01/07: CultureMap initially reported that Target would post signs banning open carry in its Texas stores, but a spokeswoman for the chain says while it "respectfully requests guests not bring fire arms into the store," it will not post signs as required by Texas law.)
Carrying a gun openly is banned in most Houston malls (Galleria, Memorial City, Willowbrook, The Woodlands, Deerbrook, First Colony) and movie complexes (AMC, Cinemark, Alamo Drafthouse, Regal, Santikos). Other establishments that ban openly carried guns, according to Gun Free Businesses, include Walgreens, Barnes & Noble, IKEA, and all 24 Hour Fitness and YMCA locations.
The Jack in the Box fast food chain bans open carry but Starbucks apparently does not, says one CultureMap reader who left a Houston location on Sunday when he didn't seen a sign and was told by an employee it's OK for a permitted gun owner to openly carry a firearm in the coffee shop. (According to a previously announced policy, Starbucks doesn't ban guns but prefers that customers not bring firearms into their stores.)
Both Gun Free Businesses and a document compiled by @kylejack on Twitter list a large number of Houston restaurants and bars that ban open carry, including Backstreet Cafe, Ninfa's on Navigation, Niko Niko and all Treadsack restaurants and bars (Down House, Johnny’s, Foreign Correspondents, Hunky Dory, Bernadine’s and D&T Drive Inn). "Alcohol and guns don’t mix well," a Treadsack spokesperson told Gun Free Businesses.
Many restaurants are scrambling to determine policy, and both sources are constantly updating their lists, so the best thing to do if you are unsure is to ask the restaurant or store owner.
One restaurant that always welcomes gun owners is Brooks' Place BBQ in Cypress, where pistol-toting patrons get a 25 percent discount.
Under the new law, it is prohibited to openly carry a weapon at schools, hospitals, nursing homes, sporting events or airport security checkpoints.